Do We Have to Watch the Watchmen?

A “Reimagining” of the Legendary Graphic Novel Gets Mixed Reception at New York Comic Con

Anyone with a pulse considers Alan Moore’s Watchmen, first published in 1986, the greatest graphic novel of all time. Watchmen focuses on a group of masked vigilantes, who subscribe to competing versions of morality and justice, as they run rampant on a dying Earth. The members include the godlike Dr. Manhattan, created in a nuclear accident, a brilliant businessman who calls himself Ozymandias, and Rorschach, who metes out an unequivocal sense of law and order from behind an ever-changing mask.

People have copied and admired the book for decades, although they haven’t really adapted it well to the screen; the Watchmen movie (2009) was undeniably dreadful. A new serial based on Watchmen will premiere on HBO on October 20. At the pilot premiere at New York ComicCon yesterday, Director Damon Lindelof commented, “We have no desire to ‘adapt’ the 12 issues Mr. Moore and Mr. Gibbons created 30 years ago. Those issues are sacred ground and will not be retread nor recreated nor reproduced nor rebooted. They will however be remixed.”

The first episode premiered on Friday night at the New York Comic Con, and it is certainly a remix, like an order of eggs and toast when you were expecting your favorite pancakes. You might recognize the ingredients, but nothing is the same. HBO requested no spoilers, so I won’t spoil, although there are certainly surprises and plenty of arresting visuals. The Comic Con audience was generally enthusiastic about familiar moments (such as a minor squid storm, a clear reference to the source), and there was plenty of violence and one-liners from the show’s star, Regina King. There’s not an action show today that doesn’t combine quips and guns. If you were hoping to discover new ways to hide guns, use guns, and hear guns, you’ll be delighted. If you’d also enjoy watching some gratuitous shooting in a field of terrified cows, you’ll be ecstatic.

The episode revolves around the phrase “It’s summer, and we’re running out of ice,” a quote from the musical Oklahoma! We see the phrase painted on a billboard and they loop it throughout the first episode. The original Watchmen featured plenty of graffiti (such as “Who watches the Watchmen?,” which my teenage self found particularly genius) and it was so nice to see a hint of what made the novel so visually appealing. Expect strong performances from Don Johnson, a semi-clothed Jeremy Irons, and, of course, Regina King. But this wasn’t my Watchmen. I’m not even sure what it was, and I’m not sure I liked it.

Rebecca Kurson

Rebecca Kurson writes about literature, pop culture, television, science fiction and music. Her work has appeared in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Observer, The Federalist and Rodale's Organic Life.

2 thoughts on “Do We Have to Watch the Watchmen?

  • October 5, 2019 at 10:37 pm
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    I hear ya on the difficulty of bringing to screen an exceptionally challenging property, but I’m still very much looking forward. Seriously, you had me at “semi-clothed Jeremy Irons.”

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  • October 6, 2019 at 11:39 pm
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    It is a sequel though, right? This all takes place in a setting after Dr. Manhatten has left and Rorschach’s journal was found. This article doesn’t really get that point across and I think that’s an important distinction. The way this is written it somewhat implies that this is a re-imagining of the graphic novel’s story, which from what I understand, it isn’t.

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